Jon Hazell: Stay and Fight for Public Education

When I was interviewed for Teacher of the Year, I was asked what my message would be as I traveled the state representing public education. My answer both then and now is “Stay and fight.” Our kids are worth it, and the job is worth it.
I didn’t always think this way, but some life-changing experiences outside the classroom completely changed my perspective.
I have 34 years of experience in the classroom in this state, and my wife has 32. Together, we speak with some authority on the subject of public education issues we face in Oklahoma.
I, as everyone else, wish teachers in Oklahoma could get the raises they deserve and that many desperately need. I wish there were not so many unnecessary hoops to jump through or accountability requirements to somehow prove that I am doing my job. I wish there was more professional respect for teachers and the job we do, because we absolutely deserve it.
In short, I wish a lot of things. And there was a time in my career that my desire for these things (all valid desires) became my focus, and when that happened, my passion, my joy and my fulfillment began to wane. I almost became resentful, bitter, and I thought about looking for somewhere else to go and something else to do.
Then something life-changing happened to me. I took my first trip to Africa to work with schools, churches and hospitals, and some of the most beautiful souls one could ever hope to encounter. During these trips I have seen true poverty, unspeakable tragedy, horrible disease and hopeless situations. But, at the same time, I have seen hope, joy, hospitality, love and thankfulness from the very people whom you might think would be the most bitter and the most hopeless. I cannot effectively put into words the lift my soul receives when I spend time with these people, destitute in material goods, yet abounding with the wealth of a joyful spirit. Every time I come back to arguably the richest country on Earth, I am humbled, thankful and sometimes embarrassed about things I have complained about so much. Someone once said, “Someone somewhere right now is praying for the very things we take for granted.” I have found that to be abundantly true.
I believe it is OK to fight for teacher pay raises and more funding for public education. I absolutely believe our Legislature must find ways to adequately fund all of the current needs of education. 
But I do not believe that making these issues our main focus, threatening to leave, discouraging our young students from thinking about entering the profession or negatively influencing our dedicated colleagues is the answer.
Our work lives are just one place in which we will face difficult circumstances. We can choose to focus on those difficulties and become dissatisfied, resentful, even bitter; or, we can choose to focus on the fact, that we as teachers, have the most fulfilling profession in terms of eternal rewards that any person can have. I personally know so many people who make more money than I ever will, but they are unhappy, unfulfilled and still searching for that true meaning of life, which we discovered long ago and have been blessed to experience every day, as we invest in the hearts of precious children for eternity.
Threatening to leave accomplishes nothing. Discouraging young people from entering this most noble of professions possibly robs these students of the greatest joy they could ever experience. This contradicts why we became teachers, to help our students find the greatest success and fulfillment possible in their lives.
Yes, I wish conditions were better. No, I am not leaving, and I will not only refrain from discouraging others, but I will diligently fight, with every opportunity my platform gives me, to encourage others to stay and join this most worthy of causes. I am determined not to lose my focus, but I will instead, continue to thank God every day that He has given me the greatest calling that exists in our world: to be a teacher.
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Last updated on May 22, 2017